Jane Humphries (Oxford University), 'How much did English Women earn in the past? Female wages from before the Black Death through the Industrial Revolution*'

On December 10th, 2013, Professor of Economic History and Fellow at Oxford University will give a lecture on her (and Professor Jacob Weisdorf's) paper: 'How much did English Women earn in the past? Female wages from before the Black Death through the Industrial Revolution*'

Organisator Rural and Environmental History

di 10 december 2013 12:30 tot 14:00

Locatie Leeuwenborch, building number 201
Hollandseweg 1
6706 KN Wageningen
Zaal/kamer C81

Jane Humphries, University of Oxford and Jacob Weisdorf, University of Southern Denmark, Utrecht University, CEPR


This paper presents a wage series for unskilled English (and some Welsh) women workers from 1260 to 1860. The series is bookended by some familiar data compiled by authors such as Thorold Rogers, for the medieval period, and Joyce Burnette, for the nineteenth century. Data extracted from less well-known sources, including a number of estate and household accounts, supplements the established material and bridges several gaps in the series, which  can then be compared with the authoritative evidence for men compiled by Clark (2007) and Allen (2001).  The data is subdivided into weekly wages, which were by and large earned by married women, and annual wages, which were by and large the reserve of single farm and household servants, and separate time series computed by contract type.   The two series exhibit secular differences in levels and trends, differences which are important in understanding the role of women in the economy.

Our series cast light on long run trends in women’s agency and wellbeing, revealing an intractible, indeed widening gap between women and men’s remuneration, but also inform several recent debates in economic history. First, the series bear on the question of whether “the golden age of the English peasantry” allegedly inaugurated by the Black Death included women, and more particularly whether demographic disaster and the resulting shift to animal husbandry advantaged women whose wages and opportunities increased. This has subsequent ramifications for secular growth since, as argued by De Moor and van Zanden (2010) and Voitlander and Voth (2012), women who spent time as servants, delayed marriage and reduced fertility, the resulting Northern European Marriage Pattern (NEMP) raising incomes and promoting further growth. Second, the series enable the relationship between the age at marriage and women’s relative wages to be explored in a long run context. Did a relatively high female wage deter marriage by raising the opportunity costs of childbearing as the seminal paper by Galor and Weil (1996) suggests? Third, the series inform recent interest in whether female celibacy was influenced by women’s ability to maintain themselves and so remain unmarried, see Froide (2007). Fourth, the series shed renewed light on the questions of the male breadwinner model and the size of women’s contribution to household income relative to that of men (Schneider 2013).


* We thank Bob Allen, Steve Broadberry, Nick Crafts, Deb Oxley, Eric Schneider, Kevin O’Rourke, Peter Solar, Rui Esteves, as well as the conference and seminar participants at the First CEPR Economic History Symposium; the 16th World Economic History Congress; and the University of Oxford for their helpful comments and suggestions. We are grateful to Joyce Burnette, Jacob Field, Roderick Floud and Jan Luiten van Zanden for sharing their data, and to Sören Schou for his excellent research assistance, sponsored by the University of Southern Denmark. Jacob Weisdorf has benefitted from funding made available by the ERC ’United we stand’ (grant n° 240928) courtesy of Tine de Moor, as well as that of his Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship (grant no° 300399).